Dealing With A Bad Race

Yesterday wasn’t my best race. But it wasn’t my worst either. I have said I’m a bad “racer” or racist as the term may be, so I made one of my 2010 goals to run 5 races (of any distance). My IT Band injury put a damper on that, but I did end up running 5 races over the last 5 months. IMG_8038

Running races more often has helped me deal with my race day nerves, bathroom rituals, carb-loading, pre-fueling and more.

It has also taught me how to better deal with Bad Races. I’m not a natural runner so bad runs happen to me pretty often.  I  have said, “All the stars need to align for me to have a good run.” True, very true.

They can’t all be winners or I should say, they can’t all be PRs (as my name isn’t Kara Goucher and I’m not winning anything unless I put on a Betty White costume and try for the Senior Olympics).

Winner and girl crush:Kara Goucher rocks

Me:Betty White with snickers


So, we know we can’t win PR them all, but what do you do when you are at mile 2 and realize – “This is going to suck.”?

The short answer is: “Keep going.” ?

The long answer is…

Yesterday I had to deal with a “bad race” in that my stomach felt off and my legs felt tired. I didn’t have any fire in my belly to push myself either Sad smile

Does anyone else notice how you know if it’s going to be a good run within the first couple steps?

As soon as I leave my house for a long run I can feel it. I know if it’s going to be a good run or a bad one. Now I need to work on coming back from a bad one if that’s the case.

Yesterday I knew it was a bad race before the 1 Mile Marker. When you’re doing a 5K that’s not so bad. But when you have 12.1 more to go…then you’re in for some trouble.

How to Deal with A Bad Race:

1. Assess why you’re feeling bad.

Is it a legitimate injury? Is your body telling you it’s hurt or needs attention?

If so: Slow down or stop and assess the situation. It is NOT worth risking a worse or long term injury for one race. There are thousands of races every year, you can find another one when you’re better. Don’t risk it if you are truly hurt.

If not: If it is a stomach issue like I had or something less serious: Assess the situation… Do you have a blister? Are you going to poop yourself?

No? Okay, just keep going but slow down. Take walk breaks as needed.

Yes? Find a porta-potty ASAP or realize this will be the race you forever refer to as, “That time I crapped myself in public.” Your choice. It's not normal to take a porta potty picture?

2. If it is not a serious problem figure out a plan of action for finishing the race.

You may need to accept that you’ll need to walk or go to the bathroom or stop at the First Aid station for a band-aid. IMG_3461

I fall a lot.


If your non-serious issue is clothing or surface wound related (like a blister forming) stop and try to fix it instead of fussing with it miserably for an hour.

I realized my stomach issues were painful, but not serious. I slowed down a bit and realized I would not PR today. I also gave myself permission to ignore my Garmin. It was tempting to see my pace drop and want to speed up, but I knew I couldn’t maintain a faster rate.

Also – I opted not to take GU at mile 6 like I normally do in Half Marathons. I wasn’t sure how my tummy would react. I stuck with Gatorade and water. This hurt my energy and endurance, but might have helped me avoid the ol’ “So I can’t control my bowel movements…” story.IMG_2713

3. Remember it’s supposed to be fun.

Races are supposed to be FUN! Even if you’re having a bad day, make the most of it and enjoy the experience. You spent a lot of money and time training to get there, so don’t a bad situation affect your mood too.

Once I realized I wasn’t going to PR and the lack of GU was making my legs feel like lead (better my legs than my stomach) I took time to enjoy the spectators and their signs.

Talk to a fellow runner or walker at your pace. Take pictures Make friends. Make memories.

During yesterday’s half  I really wished I had running buddies to do fun races with. I need running buddies that don’t just meet up once a year! sixteen in chicago

4. STOP do you don’t Drop.

If you are seriously hurt then it’s okay to Stop. Professional runners often take a DNF (did not finish) so they don’t “waste” their legs on a race they can’t win. Apparently, it’s not that big of a deal.

Walking in races is okay! I walked through a few aid stations to get water yesterday. And on hot race days – I make it a point walk through stations when I feel that I might become dehydrated.

During the Long Beach marathon I hobbled over to a lamppost at Mile 23 to stretch out my hamstring. Do what you gotta do.

Finally, the good news is – you get a special super hero cape at the end of the race, so you’ll be able to fly home if necessary Winking smileMonica is creepy

Question: Do you have any tips for dealing with a bad run or race?


  1. says

    Running buddies TOTALLY makes it better. I’m bored just thinking of running 14, 16, 18, and 20 miles before the marathon all by myself. Maybe I can kidnap Lauren or Becky and get them running, and by kidnap I mean bribe with brownies.

  2. Jennifer says

    I run all of my long runs with my running buddies. I joined a local running group just so I wouldn’t have to run by myself and now I have an amazing group of friends!
    I am able to tell whether my run will be a good one or not during the first half mile. Yesterday my legs were clomping (not good) and I couldn’t find my rhythm (double whammy) :( But I did push through with a few walk breaks and was able to finish my 10!

    It’s ok to have a bad run….life happens. The important thing to remember is to get out there again!

  3. says

    Sorry that it wasn’t your best race. You still look like a superhero in that sweet cape. I am not a natural runner, so I feel like I need to work really hard at preparing for any long run or race. It gets tiring at times!

    Did I hear you may be running a race in MA in March? If so, I may see you there!

  4. says

    I like to focus on how I got to where I am. The races I’ve run, how it felt to run a mile non-stop the first time, the people who have started running due to my encouragement. That usually helps with any mental bad race problems, and helps me not focus on any current pain.

  5. says

    Great recap! Thanks for sharing :) Just what i needed to “hear” actually, so thank you! My 1st half-marathon that i’m walking is 2 weeks from yesterday. And i think i may have messed up my achilles pretty bad… so for this week, i’m just taking it slow and seeing where things go. If i drop down to a 5K or drop out completely, that’s okay too!

  6. says

    Yesterday I was so excited for my LR. I realized within the first two miles that this run was going to suck. I went through 15 miles after that focused solely on how much the run sucked. Now I’m trying to convince myself that this week’s LR won’t meet the same fate… (It’s not working)

  7. says

    I have never had a bad race, but definitely bad runs. If it is a mental thing I can generally break out of the funk by playing mind tricks on myself. Like I am allowed to walk from point a to point b, if I can just run to at least that one tree off in the distance, or at a certain mileage distance. If I have stomach issues I am a big baby. I often walk through it, although sometimes it does happen through the whole thing. I hope I don’t have this issue ever. The race would be over pretty much. Can’t wait to hear what your other readers write to help me with this if it does happen!

  8. says

    I fall a lot too. :)

    They can’t all be winners and you can learn from every race: the good and the bad. I learned from my bad races too. I’m not running races anymore (not really running much right now either) but each one has a lesson to learn…
    “I should have trained on more hills.”
    “I may not be fast but I can go the distance.” And so on…

  9. says

    Running is 95% mental and 5% training!

    Don’t worry about PR-ing every single race, just set out to run the best race you can that day. You’ve done all the work leading up to that point, so the last step is to just do it!

    Not every run can be perfect, but how many times when you are feeling crappy does a run make you feel better? I think that is the case more often than not….if you hit a wall during your next race just remember how much running makes your life better and power through the rest of the race! Maybe for your next race run a shorter distance (5 or 10K) to boost your confidence and get a good race under your belt :)

    After running in high school track and cross-country, you learn how to deal with not so good races, and consequently the high from the awesome races when you get a huge PR!

    Good Luck!

  10. says

    It is great to visualize yourself having fun running a race. See yourslef going with the flow, smiling and having fun with those around you. We all know that the last miles of any race can be brutal- and just thinking about my up coming hilly 30 km race make my tummy turn- so I am going to take my advice and go visualize!!

  11. says

    I loved reading this! I’ve only run one race (a half) this past December. I’m running my 2nd half in March, and learning so much about my personal running preferences and how to deal with anxiety before long runs, maintaining a positive attitude no matter what happens, etc.

  12. says

    Being a runner I know what having a bad run feels like! I hate when I step out the door and I know it’s not going to be great and sometimes I beat myself up. This happened to me at the Arizona Half, I had no motivation to run, I wasn’t feeling a race, and just wanted to sleep in my warm bed and eat pancakes. As soon as I hit .5 miles I knew all I wanted to do was stop running and go home. The reason I didn’t just go home I shelled out a million dollars for that race.

    What keeps me going through times like that, is I think of how strong I am, how much I put into running and even with something that is part of my life I have bad days and one bad run or race doesn’t determine who I am as a person. Sometimes I feel like a failure and start to feel guilty and then I just think of how far I have come from the chubby girl who couldn’t run a 15 minute mile to the girl who can now run a sub 7 mile. I have my good days and I have my bad days, it makes me who I am as a runner. They all can’t be good days or else everyone who be a runner. IT takes an amazing strong person to be a runner! you’re an inspiration and no matter how bad a race or run you’re a runner.

    wow that was a long post I think I went off on a tanget too haha sorry :)


    • Annie says

      I had the worst race of my life today. My legs just completely quit working at mile 8, something I haven’t really experienced before. And your post really helped me put things in perspective. I also used to be the chubby girl who couldn’t run a 15 minute mile, and can now run sub 7. It’s hard to remember, but having one bad race doesn’t make me a bad runner, I hope it just makes me stronger :)

  13. says

    I’ve only ever had one really bad race and I blamed it on my unborn child. That worked for me :) Time running half while (unknowingly) pregnant? 2:16 Time running a half marathon 2 weeks ago? 2:02. See? It was all the baby’s fault!

    Also, I like blaming the weather, that makes me feel better.

    I think hitching a ride to finish could work too.

  14. says

    How did I not realize you’d be at Surf City!? I ran the full yesterday!

    Congrats!! I think you did awesome, whether you think so or not! :)

  15. Michelle says

    I sign up for another race when I have a bad one. That way I stop dwelling on the bad race I just have and concentrate on focusing on the next one and how i’m going to rock it!

  16. says

    How “bad” was it, time wise? How far off were you?

    I’ve done 4 halves in the past six months and Vegas was by far my worst- it really motivated me and I PRed yesterday. So, hopefully this will help you come back stronger next time!

    I know this is going to sound hugely geeky (but then I do write a book blog) but the week before each big race I try to read a running book so that when I have bad moments I have something to think of. The night before Surf City I was working on Born to Run and when I started feeling bad at mile 8 I reminded myself of the crazy (and talented) ultra-runners who knock out 50 or 100 in hills. If they can do that, I can suck it up and run a few more.

    You’ll come back better than ever! Plus, it was a chance to eat lots of carbs and not feel guilty :)

  17. says

    Love this post!! I usually know if I’m going to have a bad race within a mile or two. I’ve made some bad racing mistakes in the past and I’m just trying to take each bad race as a learning experience. You live and you learn! And on those days where I just don’t have the energy, well that’s another story. :)

  18. says

    When I’m having a bad run I try to think back to my first run ever – NO run could be as bad as that one! (I’d link to the horror story but, um, yeah.. lol) I also sometime tell myself things like, “there are so many people who CAN’T run right now who would love to even be having a crappy run than being stuck with an injury. It could be worse.” Kind of like a weird version of “I run for those who can’t”.

  19. Amanda says

    I definitely have had some bad runs. I have also had a bad race! Ugh! I ran the turkey trot thanksgiving morning, its an 8K. I had worked the night before, I work 3pm-11pm and barely slept. Even worse: work was busy and my feet still hurt from the night before. When I got home from work that night I foam rolled and mainlined some wheat-grass juice to help in some attempt to redeem myself. The race was lousy, I was cold and I never quite found my pace. 4.97 miles and I never settled into a pace! WTF. Bad bad race! (it was also my first 8K EVER!)

  20. says

    You are so right, you do know whether or not the race is going to be good within the first few steps. I just had a not so great day at the Disney marathon (stomach issues), so I decided to have fun, enjoy the scenery and take pics with all the characters. I follow your tip #3

  21. says

    gosh. i try to tell myself that even though i’m racing the real reason i run is to have fun. that, and that the pain will be over shortly!

    in terms of actual runs, i’ve been getting better at telling myself that there’s no sense in killing myself or my body if things just don’t feel right physically. today i had to opt out of my tempo because i just felt drained. it sucked but i kept telling myself that my body will love me later that day doing other fun stuff and then tmrw when i reattempt it.

    and race in MA?! where? when?

  22. says

    This is SO helpful! I’m running my first race (a 10K) in April, and I’ve really started worrying about it being a “bad race” like I have “bad runs” sometimes. I will definitely keep these things in mind both before and during my race!

  23. says

    I review everything a couple of days after to figure out why it was a ‘bad’ race or run. Was my fueling on target? Did I get to the pace I needed to be at. A true objective analysis to understand everything.

    All that being said I will say any day I’m running is a good day. I have never finished a race or long run and regretted it. Yes it may not have gone according to plan but it is never regretted.

    Happy racing and Keep Smiling.

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